Monday, January 04, 2010

The No-Goal Year

Around about this time, every second blogger is writing about goals. How to set them, how to achieve them, how not to fail, how to keep going/set habits/achieve what you want. And yet I keep reading about how 98% of us set goals and "fail" by 1 February. So what's the answer? Obviously, one answer is to set goals that you can achieve by 1 February so your year is already successful! Another answer (one I hear a lot, I have to say) is that goal setting is a waste of time, so don't bother.

This year, I've reviewed my 5 year plan, changed a few things, moved a few things, deleted a couple of things, added some things. Yep, a "thingy" kind of plan. But when I get right down to it, what's influencing my thinking about 2010 right now is a book I've just read called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. I mentioned it before - now I've read it. The thing everyone is talking about is 10,000 hours. That's how long it takes you to get really good at something. It's like an apprenticeship.

Years ago, I read an article about writing classes and workshops, and the guy who wrote it said if he'd been in a really good writing group, it would have saved him ten years of slogging away on his own. But now I think the ten years he is talking about is really just the ability to critique and edit your own work - for sure, a good critique group can help you enormously. But that's only one part of being a writer. The biggest part by far is the writing. Imagine 10,000 hours of it. That's ten hours a week for 1,000 weeks (yes, 20+ years!).

Have you been writing for 20 years? Take a moment and work it out. How many hours do you honestly think you have been writing for so far? I think I started back in 1982. Early on, I probably did around 2 hours a week. When I studied my BA (majoring in literary studies including writing) it was more like 5 hours a week. I'm trying hard to be honest here, by the way. Since then, I've done a lot of teaching, so I include the study of the writing craft and my teaching of it to be part of my 10,000, because it's contributing to my learning.

I've been in a critique group for 22 years. We meet weekly, for two hours, but there are a lot of times when we don't critique (yeah, be honest, girls!). So really that's around 50 hours a year max. I think I got my 10,000 hours in around 1998, or maybe 2000. But you know what? I still feel like an apprentice. And I like that feeling. I like the idea that there is always more to learn, always more ways to improve. And that there are lots more stories I want to tell with better writing.

So my "goal" for this year is not 10,000 hours. It's not the list of commitments I have to fulfill and books to complete on contract. It's not even the various steps to take along the way on my 5 year plan. Those are all things I can write down and feel good about when I tick them off (if I get them done - ha!). No, my aim this year is simple. 5000 words a week. Of anything. Novels, poems, stories, journalling, picture books, articles. Maybe what I'm really aiming for is 20,000 hours. Maybe what I'm aiming for is simply ... writing.


JoGillespie said...

Wonderful! Now...THERE is a specific goal, and a useful one, too. 5000 words a week - it will be a challenge, but thanks for throwing down the gauntlet. Will you keep us posted on your progress?

Sherryl said...

Jo - I'm nearly at the end of Week 2 and so far have managed around 9000 words each week.
The test will be when I am back at work and teaching, but I am determined to reach the big 5, at least!